Sword of the Guardian began many years ago as a short story written by a starry-eyed eleven year old whose head was filled, at the time, with tales of princesses, acrobats, magic and slaves who rose to become kings. The original was a tale of four sisters, princesses of an exotic fantasyland kingdom – their names were Shasta, Aleria, Brie and Qiturah. The plot has long since been forgotten, though I can recall two traveling acrobats, boy and girl twins, visiting the palace, and a slave boy named Talon who eventually became king of the land.
When I started re-writing the story in adulthood, it was intended as an entertaining diversion for my friends on Livejournal. I had no idea, at the time, that things like lesbian publishing houses actually existed. I’d never read a lesbian book, other than a few short stories and fanfictions posted on the internet. What I really wanted was a big stack of grocery-store bodice-rippin’ romance novels – ridiculously cheesy covers and all – about women like myself. They didn’t exist. So, for the fun of it one day, I decided to revisit one of the stories I’d written in childhood and write one myself, goshdarnit.
What followed was a massive – and I do mean MASSIVE, almost 180,000 words – manuscript that was written in the span of about six weeks. It started just shortly before Nanowrimo, and was finished just before Christmas. I posted a chapter or two at a time online, for the reading pleasure of my Livejournal friends. And when the story was complete, someone suggested that I look into having it published. I figured there was no way that a publishing house was going to accept my blatantly lesbian, crossdressing, YAish-except-for-the-sex fantasy romance novel.
But when I started looking around on the internet, I discovered there was an entire WORLD of lesbian publishing out there. I sent my gigantic manuscript off to one publishing house, only to receive an immediate rejection – the manuscript was far too long, so the editors would not read it. Then I sent it off to Bold Strokes Books, as they seemed to have a more generous length allowance. While I waited, I bought copies of a few of Radclyffe‘s books, and started devouring them. Imagine my complete and utter shock when, one snowy afternoon, I got a call from Radclyffe herself!!
The story was good, she said, but she had a few questions. How did I feel about having an editor pick it apart? It would need a lot of style work and a lot of trimming down. Star-struck, I immediately said no problem. If it meant I could get my story into the hands of more people like me, I’d be happy to learn whatever I could about strengthening my writing and crafting this bulky, fanfic-like monster into a real novel. Okay, she said. I’ll send you a contract.
The story took six weeks to write, and a year and a half to edit. I was assigned the most wonderful editor, Jennifer Fulton, who patiently went through my giant of a manuscript word by word and taught me more in that year about writing than I’d learned in an entire curriculum in college. There were a lot of changes. Names were changed, and the ages of the characters. Slavery was replaced by a system of indentured servitude. The prologue and first few chapters were cut, and a new chapter written for a little later on in the story. The priestess Qiturah was added as a narrarator. Thousands and thousands of corrections to the text. And then, when it was over, Radclyffe herself came up with the perfect title.
For me, having this book published was the realization of a life-long dream. It went on to win two Golden Crown Literary Awards, and best of all, it was perfectly set up to accommodate future stories set in the same world.
Though it is marketed as an adult novel due to the love scene, many readers have aptly noted its distinct YA flavor. And that, really, is my hope for this book – that queer readers of all ages, especially those who enjoy the cheesy fluff of grocery-store romance novels and YA fantasy adventures, will find in Sword of the Guardian a satisfying and entertaining tale with characters they can relate to and a message they can hopefully find inspiring.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will there be more books in the Ithyria series?
Yes. I am currently working on the second installment, Prayer of the Handmaiden. I have three more books planned for the world of Ithyria after that one, for a total of five (if my publisher allows.)
Will Talon and Shasta be in future books?
Yes. Each book will focus on the relationship between two new characters, but Talon and Shasta will appear as supporting characters in all the Ithyria novels. Their story will continue in each book.
How do you pronounce Kumire’s name?
Any way you like – you’re the reader! :) But if you really want to know, the way his name is pronounced in MY head is “Koo-MEER.”
Is Talon transgendered?
I’ve received this question a lot, mostly because of the part in the story where Talon asks herself whether, because she’s been living as a man for so long, she’s actually become one on the inside. This is a natural thing to wonder, I think, for anyone who has been living as the opposite gender most of their lives. It would have been unrealistic not to at least pose the question.
But no, Talon is not transgendered. She began dressing as a boy out of necessity, to protect her younger sisters. By the time her sisters were grown, Talon was involved in a romantic relationship with a very public figure – the future Queen of Ithyria. So, she continues to dress as a man to protect Shasta’s interests. Though she might wonder on occasion (and wouldn’t we all?) whether living as a man for so long has perhaps altered her psyche, she never stops thinking of herself with female pronouns – which is the most telling evidence that she considers herself a woman. This is an important distinction: transgendered people perceive themselves, always, as their true gender. I may at some point write an unquestionably transgendered character, but if I do, that character will use appropriate pronouns for themselves.
However, I would describe Talon as butch. She has little interest in traditionally feminine clothing and pasttimes, but enjoys swordplay, athletics and her military career. Her male disguse allows her to pursue these things in Ithyria’s very gender-oriented society without sanction. And, (small spoiler alert) it will also eventually allow her to open doors to other women who enjoy these things as well.
This is not to say that I am opposed to a reader viewing Talon as transgendered if it appeals to them to do so. There aren’t nearly enough characters out there for our transgendered brothers and sisters to identify with, so if folks find camraderie in Talon’s character I’m not about to discourage it!
Why is Shasta such a brat? Why does this story seem so YA if it’s for adults?
In the original draft, the story began when Shasta was 13 and Talon was 16. Much of Shasta’s behavior in the story is reflective of a spoiled pre-teen. The characters’ ages were increased in the editing process, primarily because of the explicit love scene – the characters needed to be over 18 when the love scene occurs. The aging of the characters had the added side effect of painting Shasta as especially immature at the beginning of the novel – which turned out all right, since it provides nice contrast for her character growth over the four years that the story spans.
How can a country with an all-powerful, loving Goddess be so homophobic and misogynistic?
I can’t answer this one too much without revealing spoilers for the next book. Suffice to say, it’s almost always human beings, not the gods, who warp the ideals of their faith.
I – and probably many other young readers out there – grew up in a homophobic environment. While I fully enjoy reading fantasy novels in which homophobia does not exist, this story is meant to allow queer people to identify with the struggles and triumphs of the characters, including facing homophobia and defying societal norms, in a fantasy setting. Also, not ALL parts of Ithyria are homophobic — but that discussion is also dangerously close to spoilers for future books… ;)
This book reads like a movie! Is it going to be made into one?
LOL, I wish! I’ve received no inquiries, though, so for the time being – nope. You’ll have to settle for the trailer. (And no, I don’t have plans to make a full-length animated movie either. Just doing the simple work in the trailer took FOREVER – I’d never get the next book written!)
Will you sign my copy of the book?
You betcha. If you want to mail your copy to me with some pre-paid return postage, I’ll gladly sign it for you and send it back. I might also include the occasional extra giftie if I have it on hand. ;) Shoot me an email and let’s talk!